As a blogger, I am asked to review dozens of books each month. As someone with a full-time job and a full-time life, I rarely accept these requests. But when I was asked to review iFaith: Connecting with God in the 21st Century by Daniel Darling, I considered saying “Yes.” I am quite interested in the relationship between faith and technology. A book called iFaith seems to lie in the middle of my curiosity. A quick review of Darling’s website impressed me positively, so I agreed to review his book.
I received a review copy in the mail, and promptly misplaced it. A couple of months later, I received a second review copy, which I did not lose. But I found myself feeling more and more negative about iFaith, not because of the book itself, but because of my expectations for it. I figured this book fell into one or two predictable categories. Either it was one of those books written by a Christian leader who is convinced that digital technology will bring about a new reformation, or it was one of those books that bemoans the impact of technology on the church and yearns for the days of dial-up telephones and ditto machines. Frankly, I had no interest in reading one more book in either of these categories, so I lost interest in iFaith. But, since I had committed to do a review, I put it in my “to be reviewed” pile and planned to take it up later.
When I finally began reading iFaith, I was struck by Daniel Darling’s efficient, focused prose. “He’s not wasting my time,” I thought, “thanks be to God.” But it’s what Darling’s prose communicated in the book’s introduction that encouraged and intrigued me:
Warning: this isn’t a book that trashes technology and longs for the false idealism of a bygone ere when everyone went to diners with 50 cent hamburgers, husbands and wives never argued, the music was always pure, and everyone lived blissfully like the Cleaver Family.
We live here, in the twenty-first century. I believe God has a mission for this millennium. Plus, the good old days of the 1950s probably weren’t as Norman Rockwell as we’d like to think.
However, as a card-carrying member of the “instant generation,” I think we need to ask ourselves, What effect has our hustling and bustling, hurrying and worrying had on our communication with God?
Darling explains the purpose of his book this way:
Two things this book is not. It’s not another how-to book on prayer by a guy who spends five hours a day in deep meditation and has this whole “talking with God” thing figured out. That’s admirable but that’s not me. It’s also not a book on how to find the illusive “balance” in life by growing a beard, joining a monastery, and renouncing all interaction with technology.
This book is a journey with some of the real people in the Bible who didn’t Twitter, text, or tote a BlackBerry or iPad, but who learned how to communicated with God in a powerfully intimate way. Let’s hope their lessons encourage us moderns to rekindle our love with the timeless spiritual disciplines.
I’d want to add a bit more to Darling’s description of his book. First, iFaith uses digital technology in order to draw us into deeper reflection on our relationship with God. This is not a book about technology. Rather, technology supplies the points of entry into a deep conversation about faith. So, for example, the tendency of some folks to use ALL CAPS in digital communications leads into a discussion of angry, passionate prayer, focusing on Psalm 73. This sort of prayer, according to Darling, is like venting to God in ALL CAPS.
Second, using technology as a discussion starter, iFaith is a serious, careful, very readable study of Scripture, one that focuses on the reality and messiness of relationship with God. Chapter 7, “when God is offline,” uses the metaphor of being offline to introduce a study of the book of Job.
I can imagine that some readers, especially those of us in midlife and beyond, might be unsettled by elements of Darling’s juxtaposition of faith and technology. Is it really okay, we might wonder, to speak of abiding in Christ as our “divine hotspot”? We tend to be much more comfortable with the agricultural imagery of the Bible. Abiding in Jesus as a branch abides in the vine seems so much more familiar, not to mention safer. Yet, I appreciate Darling’s effort to use the imagery of today’s world to talk about the timeless truths of Scripture.
iFaith is an efficient book. It doesn’t go on and one endlessly. Darling makes his points and finishes without exhausting the reader. Each chapter is 12-15 pages long, including a page of questions, additional resources, and relevant biblical references. This book would be ideal for youth groups, young adult groups, small groups, and adult classes. I’m glad I read this book, and am pleased to recommend it.
I should mention that Daniel Darling is a columnist for Patheos. Check out The Friday Five.